This is the 28th Avenue Connector in Nashville, Tennessee. It’s a highway improvement project that opened in 2012 with great fanfare. The Connector bridges a rail line that had cut off the Vanderbilt University campus and Centennial Park from an aging industrial park.
The promotional material emphasizes the Connector’s value as a unifying force between West and North Nashville with a lot of talk about economic opportunity and cross pollination of cultures and races. The de rigueur emphasis on “complete streets” is in full force with dedicated bicycle lanes, native plantings, and bioswales. We all know the drill. Some hardworking up-to-date traffic engineer did her momma proud on this project. And, oh… yeah… this road is a third of a mile long and cost $18M.
What did the Connector really connect? From my perspective the medical centers and university needed lebensraum in the form of the old industrial park on the other side of the tracks. The Connector connected a mountain of federal, state, and local transportation dollars to an even bigger heap of subsidies and tax holidays for redevelopment. The hype about a radical reinvention of workspace looks a lot like a 1970’s style suburban office park with some nice shrubbery. Is it terrible? No. But let’s not declare a Victory For The People either. The highway lobby and medical office developers did very well. But that’s it.
And here’s something that irks me. The entire complex is private. It’s like a shopping mall that appears to be public space until someone the management doesn’t approve of comes along and suddenly you find yourself being escorted off the premiss by security. “Your tax dollars at work.” If a project is going to be substantially paid for by the public shouldn’t it remain public space?
Directly across the highway is the new award winning super premium ecological LEED certified Public Health Center. Look at the size of the building. Now look at the size of the parking lot. How is this different from every other suburban office park ever built? Oh yes. I read the brochure. They irrigate the lawn with air conditioner condensate water, there’s a bicycle station, and a bus stop on the sidewalk.
Wow. They really went all out with the bus shelter. Looks like they put a lot of thought and care into the comfort of this family waiting 45 minutes for the bus. I’m in no way opposed to bike lanes, sensitive landscaping, or water recycling. Just don’t insult me by saying these places are “green”. It’s the same old, same old.